How to get top marks in your GCSE Maths Exams: Tactics for success


11 Plus, 13 Plus, Other School Entrance & Maths

June 29th, 2020

How to get top marks in your GCSE Maths Exams: Tactics for success

It may now be some time until the next Maths GCSE exams take place. But this is your early opportunity to start thinking about exam tactics! Raj offers lots of tips on preparing for the Maths GCSE exams that will help you on your path to success.

Before The Exam

1. Use past papers to get comfortable with the exam format (know what to expect!)

Make sure that you have completed some previous exam papers as part of your final revision under strict timed conditions. Even the ablest students will make silly errors when working under time pressure. You need to make sure that you concentrate enough to keep the silly errors at a minimum and also ensure that there are no gaping holes in your Maths skills.

Take a good look at the previous papers. They are unlikely to provide sufficient clues for you to be able to “predict” possible questions for your exam. However, they will help you to appreciate how examiners phrase the questions and help you appreciate the spread of knowledge you require. The questions sometimes contain clues which will help you solve them – remember the sort of clues which crop up and look out for these in your “real” exam. It’s no good only revising part of what you have learned in Maths. If you want to achieve a good grade, make sure that you can have a good attempt at all questions. Even if you can’t answer the generally trickier later parts of the questions, the earlier parts should be straightforward marks.

2. Test your knowledge and understanding as you go

Strange as it may seem, Maths is actually one of the easiest topics to revise – provided that you have understood what you have learned and have solved lots of problems along the way to help you reinforce your understanding. If you have done this then your Maths revision should consist of testing yourself by doing past papers, identifying areas where you’ve forgotten what it’s all about, solving more problems in your weak areas, and that’s it! No strings of dates or foreign verbs or properties of elements in the periodic table to memorise. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Maths is so easy that you don’t really need to revise at all or you’ll be in for a big shock!

3. Remember the basics

And don’t forget to bring at least one spare pen, pencils, rubber, coloured pencils, calculator, ruler, protractor, compasses, etc. This may seem obvious, but forgetting something this simple can really throw a student off when under in the stressful context of the exam hall.

At The Start Of The Exam

1. Read the instructions to know what is expected of you

You may have been given a couple of minutes to read the instructions on the first page – make sure that you use these wisely and know exactly what is expected of you. For example, some examination papers will say things like: “Unless otherwise indicated candidates should answer to 2 decimal places”. Remember this as you will lose a mark by giving an answer as 2.345535678 rather than rounding it to 2.35. If no indication on rounding is given, ensure that you round your answers to the same degree of accuracy as other numbers which are provided in the question.

Also, make sure that you know how many questions you have to attempt and how long you’ve got to answer them.

2. Plan how you will tackle the paper in advance

When you open the paper, do you ignore what’s in it and steadily go from question 1 to 2 to 3 turning the pages as you go? Or do you find a question which you know very well and do that first to build your confidence. Well, it’s entirely up to you. I’ve found that the best thing to do is to very quickly scan through all the questions – you’ll see the ones you know well giving you confidence, but this will give you an overall view of the whole exam paper and will help in managing your time. Then wade your way through the questions in sequence leaving out any that you don’t like the look of until later.

During The Exam

1. Check your work

Always check your work. Sometimes you can end up with silly errors and not realise it unless you check that your calculations are correct and that the answer is realistic. Statistics questions are notorious for containing calculation errors as there are normally quite a few numbers involved which need punching into your calculator. It’s very easy to miss pressing a key on your calculator which can result in silly answers like saying that the distance from the Earth to the Sun is 14 Km or quoting an average age as 230.

2. Read the question

Always read each question thoroughly. Don’t just think “I know what this is all about” and trample through the question without much thinking – as you’re very likely to get stuck or make silly mistakes.

3. Allocate how much time to spend on each question and stick to it!

If you do a bit of Maths before you start the exam it will be a great help. Even though not all questions will have the same number of marks, it is a good idea to work out approximately how long you have to answer each question. For example, a 1 hour 45 minute exam with 19 questions allows about 5 minutes per question – so the last thing you want to do is linger for ages on a tricky question when there are others you could be answering and getting lots of marks for.

4. Show all your working out

Always write down your method of obtaining answers – put down all thoughts you think are relevant. Correct answers do not always attract full marks. On a question worth 6 marks, even if your final answer is wrong it’s still possible to get 5 out of 6 marks for showing your method!

5. Don’t rush!

Be wary of rushing through the questions you believe you know well, as a simple calculation error can throw you into confusion and dent your confidence. In particular double check figures calculated when drawing graphs and re-read the question to make sure you are not drawing the graph of y = 2x rather than x = 2y.

6. Check you are using the correct unit

Always check the question for units (minutes, kilometres etc.) and make sure that you use the correct units in your answer – remember to perform unit conversions if necessary. Also remember that answers in £ are always to 2 decimal places, and don’t write stuff like £2.05p and £2.5 but £2.05 and £2.50.

7. Be careful with minus numbers

When calculating with minus numbers always show your working e.g. 2 – (-7) = 2 + 7 etc. Even experienced mathematicians make mistakes by missing minuses – make sure you don’t.

8. Sin, cos, tan

Whenever you see a right-angled triangle in a diagram, no matter what the wording of the question, immediately think sin cos, tan, and Pythagoras. Then read the question properly and use these tools to get the answer.

9. “Diagrams not to scale”

When “Diagrams not to Scale” or something similar is seen next to a diagram – this means that you are expected to calculate the answer and not measure the lines with a ruler or try to estimate. Don’t write stuff like “because it looks like 5 cm “.

10. Don’t get bogged down on questions you can’t tackle

If you can’t see how to do any part of a question, miss it out, but leave a gap in your answer book in case you can finish it later. If you are still stuck and time is getting short, then try guessing – you may get lucky.

Good luck!

More about Raj

Raj qualified as a teacher in Maths in 1988, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.


GCSE Maths

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